Legislations against proselytization: a weakness of Indian culture –S.N. Balagangadhara

Question: One thing that Balu says is that propping up legislations against tricky proselytizations reflects the weaknesses of Indian culture needs to be explained though. How is it a weakness? How is it not a strength?

1. In both the theory of rights and in discussions about liberty (or freedom), the following two ways of conceptualizing the issues have been present. One could see rights as an “ability or power or capacity” to do something (this is called “active rights”) or as a “duty someone else has towards the rights subject” (called the “passive rights”). Equally, liberty has been conceptualized ‘positively’ (as one’s capacity) or ‘negatively’ (what the other should not do to you). Any good introduction to the theory of rights or theory of liberty will provide you with the details you require as well as the limitations of these two conceptualizations.

2. No matter which of the formulations one prefers on philosophical grounds, the debates about “conversion” in India have been framed in these terms. The defense of a secular state that India is (or ought to be) is conducted in these terms as well. The opponents in this debate, funnily enough, accept the terms of the debate, but come up with arguments why banning “conversion” into Christianity and Islam is justified or justifiable today. These arguments might be pragmatic in nature, or base itself on one or another notion of “liberty” that the western political philosophy has developed or might appeal to the so-called paradox of freedom (‘ought one be tolerant of the intolerant?’), and so on.

3. The clash between the secularists and the anti-secularists in general (or the Hindutva people in particular) exhibits itself in an ambiguous way. On the one hand, there is the issue of “conversion” into Christianity and Islam. Here, the question can be formulated in general terms as: what is the attitude of the Indian traditions towards the phenomenon itself? On the other hand, there is the issue about the terms of the debate: Is the western notion of a secular state the best, the most rational or even the most universal one? The discussions continuously switch from one issue to the other; from expressing the feeling (for it is present in these debates as no more than a feeling) that the western notion of secularism is not adequate to the Indian culture to conducting the debate in terms of the western political philosophy in order to express that feeling. The ambiguity lies in trying to express one problem in terms posed by another, which forbids such an expression.

4. What Jakob and I did is to show that there are two different issues involved here: Is the secular state (founded on Law) a “neutral one?” How did the Indian traditions grapple with the issue conversion?

The first question is important in order to show that the secular stance that requires “freedom to convert” is anything but neutral in any sense of the notion of liberty or freedom. By the same token, the anti-secularist demand to forbid conversion through legislation accepts the very framework it wants to reject.

The second question is important because it allows us to provide an answer that is in sync with the nature of the Indian traditions. Not only that. We intend to show that this solution is more efficient, rational, and defensible than any other solution. The talk of resuscitating the vibrancy of the Indian traditions belongs here.

5. Now, I can give a brief answer to your questions. If we accept the cry to ban the attempts at conversion, we will be accepting one or another variant of the western politico-philosophical thinking. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with it, except that this thinking merely secularizes Christian theology. I do not see it as an expression of the strength of the Indian traditions to kneel down before the Cross and confess that we are all worshippers of the Devil. Whoever else might want to do it, I will not. I do think that our traditions have within themselves the strength and depth to allow us to think about cultures and societies in ways hardly dreamt of today.

It is also an indication of the lack of strength. In fact, we confess that without some or another variant of western thinking in political philosophy, we cannot solve the problem of conversion. If such is the case, wherein lies the strength of the Indian traditions before they encountered the western culture?